blog post subhead large

The future arrives gradually. Unless you’re Rip Van Winkle, you don’t even notice. But once in a while there’s a signpost that says, “Yup. You’re living in the future.” I saw one this morning, and it arrived courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

I get most of my news from the Web these days, but I like the ritual of reading the actual paper during breakfast. I know about the accumulating cutbacks in the editorial staff, and I’ve noticed changes: Fewer investigative pieces, more stories from wire services, shrinking (and then vanishing) sections. I know it’s happening, but it’s happening gradually.

But I think we’ve reached a tipping point:


Here’s a zoomed-in version:


My kids like to point out that I almost never actually laugh. When they tell a joke, the best they can usually hope for is that I’ll crack a smile. But I actually LOL’d when Linda showed me this page in the paper today.

As someone who previously worked in a professional publishing operation, though, this is actually fairly sad. It’s not that mistakes don’t happen; they always do. It’s not that they’ve had to cut back on the layers of proofreading that would have caught this early. It’s that this was a really glaring mistake. I think there’s a chance they knew about it before they went to press, but decided to print it like this anyway.

In an earlier era, the editorial folks would have said, “No way can you print it like this. We have to eat the cost of fixing it, or our reputation for competence will suffer horribly.” But if that conversation took place, apparently the editorial folks at the Times don’t have that kind of pull anymore.

Update: Kevin Roderick, writing in his LAO Blog (So much for those later deadlines), adds a little detail, courtesy of an email he received from someone who works on the Times’ Calendar section:

“We only have late deadlines Sunday through Wednesday nights. Thursday was our regular 3 pm deadline, which was delayed almost 40 minutes by the computer system crashing, which caused the Quick Takes problem.”

So, they ran out of time due to a computer system crash? And rather than delaying, they just sent the story anyway? That makes it sound like it may have been a known-when-it-went-out-the-door problem, rather than a not-noticed-until-it-was-gone problem, as I speculated in my original post. Which, again, is kind of depressing.

I haven’t seen any official acknowledgment or explanation so far. Here’s the text of a query I sent to Jamie Gold, the LA Times’ readers’ representative, last night.

I was one of a number of people who noticed the unfortunate proofreading error in Friday’s print edition, when the “Quick Takes” sidebar on D2 had all its placeholder headings (“tag briefs subhead large”, etc.) left in place, rather than being replaced by the actual headlines. I posted about it on my blog, at

As someone who has worked in the editorial operation at a number of trade magazines, I sympathize with the pain of having an error like that go out. I’m only too aware of how easy it is for such mistakes to happen. And really, it’s one of those things that is more humorous (at least from the outside) than anything else.

Except for an aspect of it that I can’t help wondering about (and that I talked about in my blog post): To what extent might this error be related to the widely reported cutbacks in editorial staff that your paper has made in the last few years? As a long-time subscriber, I’m concerned by the possibility that the erosion of the newspaper business model resulting from things like craigslist is going to lead to more staff cuts and more mistakes like this, as well as other, more significant reductions in editorial quality.

I hope the Times will publish some account of what happened, what steps, if any, are being taken to prevent a re-occurrence, and most importantly, what a subscriber like myself, who is concerned about the effects of editorial cutbacks, should think about the incident’s significance.

I looked in today’s paper for some mention, but couldn’t find anything. Has the issue already been addressed publicly? Will it be?


Later update: Jamie Gold, the Times’ reader’s rep, responded to me via email this afternoon:

A note on Page A4 in the “For the Record” section was published that day. In this case, it was a computer glitch — the final page that editors saw before sending the pages in showed the correct headlines, but what appeared off the presses didn’t match what editors had seen earlier.

But I’ll forward your point to editors for their thoughts about your broader concerns regarding quality control and staffing cuts.

So, that’s kind of cool, that she’s working on a Sunday answering random emails. I didn’t notice the A4 “For the Record” item on Friday, and appear to have used that section since then to light the barbecue, but I’ll take her word for it.

That explanation leaves a question unanswered, though: At what stage was the problem actually noticed? Was an explicit decision made to ship the problematic version? How much zeal can a reader of the Times reasonably expect the paper to employ in pursuit of editorial quality? I’m not trying to be snarky. I’m actually curious what the answer is, and I suspect that the answer might not be the same today as it was a few years ago.

26 Responses to “blog post subhead large”

  1. ymatt Says:

    Pahaha. Clearly this idea of maintaining a separate print edition is asking for trouble; they need to just issue printed copies of the latest content on every morning for the geriatric types.

  2. enkidu Says:

    whoopsies! ( /ironical )

    at least there isn’t a grey box with the ‘Flash media here’ symbol in it

    every once in a while I feel like Charlie Chaplin in “Modern TImes”
    that poor sap on the assembly line with the wrenches…

  3. abechtel Says:

    “Dummy type” has always slipped into publications on occasion. It’s even happened to Google:

  4. Eric Berlin » Blog Archive » Get me proofreading! …Hello? Um, anyone? Says:

    […] A lot of newspapers are cutting back on staff these days, but The Los Angeles Times may have let go of a few too many people. […]

  5. On the death of dead-tree news, part i+1 « Blunt Object Says:

    […] blog post subhead large ( […]

  6. Another Damned Blog » Jesus. Goddamn. Fuck. | Says:

    […] …as my mother would say. This is today’s Los Angeles Times, foreal: […]

  7. Ed Driscoll » Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit Amet Says:

    […] John Edwards scandal was a classic, not even Philip Glass or Mies van der Rohe could boil things down to these basics! Filed under: Hollywood, Interrupted, Muggeridge’s Law, Oh, That Liberal Media!, The Memory […]

  8. Virtual Memories » They don’t call ‘em “Quick Takes” for nothing! Says:

    […] only pair of eyes that look over most of the editorial pages of my magazine, but I’ve never messed up this bad. | SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “They don’t call ‘em “Quick Takes” for […]

  9. The Flatlining of Dead Tree News Says:

    […] And this is it. Just go see what squeezing every last dollar out of a once awfully good paper looks like. […]

  10. Common Sense Political Thought » Blog Archive » Eighteenth century technology, once again Says:

    […], via Cassandra of the Delaware Liberal: blog post subhead […]

  11. :: And neither is this. Says:

    […], where I found this via Drum, offers the even more depressing idea that this was probably caught– I mean, there are still people in the press room– but too late to make a change without incurring some hard costs. So they decided to take the hit to their credibility instead. […]

  12. gilliebee Says:

    Ha ha! Very post-modern. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Saturday matinee | And Still I Persist Says:

    […] Speaking of newspapers, the LA Times has obviously overshot on its layoffs and needs to hire a few people back. Look closely at all the headlines on the left-hand side, as well as the caption under Matt […]

  14. tag briefs subhead large « Neko Bijin’s Serious Blog Says:

    […] briefs subhead large If you know what that means, then you don’t have to click on this […]

  15. Really Not Worth Archiving. Says:

    Lorem ipsum dolor….

    Your underwear is showing….

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    […] Old Media’s deteriorating before our very eyes. […]

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  19. Ed Driscoll » Vultures Wanted Says:

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  20. Evening Palate Cleanser :: Saturday, March 28th | My Unauthorized Blog Says:

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  21. Yaoi review: Cut Says:

    […] big article on this in the Los Angeles Times, proving the LA Times is still occasionally readable (Hm, maybe I take that back). (Here’s a pdf if the LAT has taken this story […]

  22. RobertoW Says:

    Did you notice that wasn’t the only major gaffe in the Calender Friday?

    This was the subhead for Susan King’s article on production designer Robert Boyle, “He’s a legend by design”:

    “Robert Boyle created the look for some of the 19th century’s iconic films…”

    I’m sure we all remember his work in such classics of the 1800’s as “The Wolf Man” and “Shadow of a Doubt”.

  23. 3arabawy BookMarx 03/30/2009 (a.m.) at 3arabawy Says:

    […] » blog post subhead large […]

  24. klhaut2 Says:

    The problem is not one of “proofreading,” but of a shortage of essential personnel much earlier in the production process, on the copy desk.

    Copy editors — in addition to helping ensure the factual accuracy, propriety and readability of what goes into the newspaper — are the ones who actually write the headlines, photo captions, promos and other display type. (Since most newspapers laid off their proofreaders two decades ago, most copy editors now are also responsible for checking proofs as well.)

    It is true that any competent proofreader could have caught this error, and it does give one pause to think that the L.A. Times (the L.A. Times!) would have ever allowed these sheets out of the building.

    But in the latest rounds of newsroom cuts nationwide, copy desks have taken severe hits. Today, most copy editors don’t even have time to actually READ everything that goes into the paper, let alone do an adequate job of editing.

    It should come as no surprise that when newspapers stop paying people to write headlines, headlines don’t get written. The war on copy editing is part of the drive to kill off newspapers by sacrificing the quality of the content. Expect to see a lot more of this over the next few years as print breathes its last gasp.

  25. The New Face of Investigative Journalism | reidblog Says:

    […] what came to mind earlier today—thanks to this link (courtesy of blunt object)—is that print media, even with most of it on the verge of collapse, is […]

  26. Patterico’s Pontifications » [Snarky Blog Post Title Goes Here] Says:

    […] At least it appears to have happened only in the online version of the front page — and didn’t, apparently, make it into a print edition. That makes this error less embarrassing than the last time something like this happened. […]

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